Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Obama's Afghan legacy: federalise Pakistan?

Let's recap the state of play in Afghanistan.

Is complete bureaucratic control of all of Afghanistan possible from Kabul? Answer: No.

Is Taliban victory over the Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek north Afghanistan realistic, given their economic and military support from India and the West? Answer: No.

Is a split-state solution between the north and south of Afghanistan achievable and likely to happen? Answer: I no longer think so. But none of the other options look realistic.

The third of the three options took a boost in October 2009 with an apparent change of American strategy: here -
The new American thinking is that what they deem the "nationalist" Afghan Taliban may be divided from its more extreme elements - and also from al-Qaeda, whose cohorts of foreign fighters are interested almost exclusively in jihad against the West.
I'd like to think President Obama had read what I wrote two months earlier in August 2009 (like the bit about "Western diplomats in the Afghan capital no longer enthuse about women's rights, democracy and nation-building"), but my own thoughts were a product of the time even a year before in 2008. I'd gained knowledge of the importance of Pashtun culture reading HBD blogs like Steve Sailer and GNXP.

Anyway, it's worth reading again what the middle ground in this conflict looks like.
The price of an eventual deal could be allowing Taliban governors to take over southern provinces – perhaps Helmand and Kandahar - the imposition of strict religious laws, and allowing former insurgents to take government posts.


Taliban leaders are looking for guarantees of their personal safety from the US, and a removal of the "bounties" placed on the head of their top commanders. They also want a programme for the release of prisoners held at the notorious Bagram US air base in Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay.

In return, he says, the Taliban would promise not to allow Afghanistan to be used to plan attacks on America – the original reason for American invervention, and the overriding aim of US policy in the region.
So as I argued in my article and on EU referendum forums, against a lot of doubters, it seems the Taliban Pashtun may be willing to split from the Arab dominated Al Qaeda terrorist organisation in exchange for power and status they would not get in a Kabul government. 

There, Indian-supported Tajiks like Mohammad Fahim (Panjshir Valley) and Ishmael Khan (Herat) have come to dominate the Afghan government, with non-Pashtun minorities like Hazaaran vice-President Karim Khalili  (Wardak Province). 

Even Pashtun President Hamid Kazai is a divisive figure. Kazai's Duranni tribe gained power because they were willing to trade away government positions to the Tajiks, and other non-Pashtun Afghans. This was something demanded from them by the West but it meant there was little room inside the tent for non-Duranni Pashtuns, and enmity from the Duranni who lost out. 

Where there are substantial numbers of poor Duranni tribesmen, like Helmand Province, the Taliban lean on their cultural ties to gain support for the fight against the non-Pashtun and "traitorous" Pashtun. This is why the Taliban group is a distinctly Pashtun phenomenon rather than Tajik even though the two populations are Sunni Muslim: the Tajik gain out of the government, most Pashtun don't.

Since Pashtun dynasties traditionally have flipped between Ghilzai and the Duranni families the key to security in the Pashtun region is a deal between the Ghilzai, who form the leadership of the Taliban, and the Duranni, of the Afghan government.

The Intra-Pashtun conflict and inter-ethnic conflict with non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan mean that Obama's legacy in the region cannot be anything other than a solution in which all the powerful interest groups can be bought off separately.

A two-state solution could take a number of forms. I don't know at this stage which is more likely. 

1. A sovereign "Pashtun" state which has a seat in the United Nations 

Good: Tajiks, Uzbeks, Haaza get to dominate a state in the north of Afghanistan that has few Pashtuns. Since Pashtuns tend to cause the wars in Afghanistan and run Afghan governments this might lead to moderate levels of economic development. Taliban Pashtun dominated south might again wipe out opium farming.

Bad: Pashtun state has no defined borders. While the vast majority of Pashtuns live in the south and south east, there are pockets in the north. Then there is the question who is going to control Nimruz Province, and the new road to Iran, strategically important for the north because it has reduced their dependency on Pakistani transit.

In 1993 the Durand Line border separating Pakistan from Afghanistan expired after 100 years. A new border would have to be brokered for the new state. Since Pashtuns live well inside Pakistan they might claim Pakistani cities of Quetta and Peshawar inside a new Pashtunistan. Thus Pakistan might block a Pashtun state.

2. Pashtunistan could become part of a devolved Afghan federation in which the Pashtun areas are governed from Kandahar and are responsible for their own police and security. The army would be run from Kabul.

Good: As above. Being essentially two states all groups should get a slice of the pie and cooperation should increase. 

Bad: Pashtuns might not accept a deal without their own army divisions located in the south, staffed by Pashtun officers. There would be the arguments over jurisdiction also noted above, where Pashtuns in non-Pashtun regions would want to rule themselves and vice versa. There may be a Pashtun assault on the north to control the whole of Afghanistan and more ethnic cleansing. This would be fairly easy for the Pashtuns to do, as it has been done before, because the north population is more landlocked than the south (which has close connection with Pakistan).

3. The Pashtun region could be made part of a larger Pakistan

Good: Can't think of anything.

Bad: Still the question of where to draw the border between north and south Afghanistan. Added problem of Pakistani Taliban already fighting the Pakistan government. Thus Pashtun groups would likely oppose Pakistani rule.

I have to say I'm now considering the option that Obama may eventually leave the future of Afghanistan in its past: a random mess.

The only other option I can think of is a federalisation of Pakistan in which Pashtunistan, Baluchistan, Sind and Punjab - there may be others, Bangladesh already lost - all have their own local government within  a Central Asian Republic kind of state. The Pakistani army, which already receives $1bn a year aid from the United States, would be responsible for external security.

In fact, a 2009 paper "Managing Ethnic Diversity and Federalism in Pakistan" by Mohammed Mushtaq argues that Pakistan should be federalised. Maybe that is the only solution to Afghanistan.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Afghan - Indian relations: about China not Pakistan

It is received wisdom that Indian interests in Central Asia are designed to counter-balance Pakistan. All Indian actions must be framed versus Pakistan, whilst the geopolitical elephant in the room China - the other 1 billion population rising global superpower, which has a history of conflict with India - is totally ignored. 

An example of this standard analysis, Jayshree Bajoria of the Council on Foreign Relations writes -
Afghanistan holds strategic importance for India as New Delhi seeks friendly allies in the neighborhood, and because it is a gateway to energy-rich Central Asian states such as Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. "India is looking to ensure that other countries in the region favor or at least are neutral on its conflict with Pakistan," says J Alexander Thier, an expert on Afghanistan at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). Afghanistan, on the other hand, he says, looks to India as "a potential counterweight in its relationship with Pakistan." 
And so on. But I shouldn't pick on one random Googled individual - how about an entire special issue of a respected International Politics journal?

There are in fact a number of good reasons why India wants to develop an interest in Central Asia irrespective of a conflict with the Pakistani government - which I believe is, aside from rhetoric, as good as finished for now as Pakistani elites become twisted around India's massive economy.

1. Central Asian energy

India is interested in Central Asian energy but only to prop up the Tajik-dominated Afghan government and deny revenue to the Pashtun, not for Indian energy security purposes.

India's actions may suggest it is interested in natural gas from Turkmenistan. India signed a memorandum of understanding for a pipeline that would pass through the problem Pashtun region of southern Afghanistan and Pakistan (Herat-Kandahar-Quetta). As recently as 2008 India, Pakistan and the Afghan government agreed to buy gas from Turkmenistan

But while the southern part of Afghanistan where the proposed trans-Afghan pipeline would be laid is  the flattest piece of land in the region it is also the most politically unstable. It is not a secure source of energy for India for the long-term, or even for Pakistan or anyone else for that matter. For India, there must be the added consideration that the gas must travel through Pakistan, and Pakistan's own secessionist Baluchistan region.

A state which relies on the trans-Afghan pipeline for its gas could easily become dependent on a high-priced, highly unstable source of energy. Another factor against serious Indian interest are the Indian's own relatively healthy domestic energy supplies. India has large reserves of coal which it currently uses for power generation, newly discovered conventional gas fields, and potential for economic unconventional shale gas, and coal bed methane. So while the Indian government might act interested in Central Asian gas it does not seem to be an essential resource for India. 

The pipleline is still important to India in one way: through transit rights. There is $300 million per year up for grabs for whichever Afghan government can control the flow of gas from Turkmenistan. If the Pashtun south controlled the revenue from the pipeline from Kandahar rather than the Tajiks from Kabul the money would prop-up a Taliban type Pashtun regime that does not have strong relations with India, rather than a regime friendly to Tajikistan and India.

2. Strong relations with Tajikistan

Tajiks are culturally closer to Indians than the rural, feuding Afghan Pashtuns. Tajik-Afghanis are urban, business orientated, educated in Indian universities. Tajiks enjoy Indian culture, like Bollywood films and Indian television programmes. Afghan-Indian relations are therefore a euphemism for Indian-Tajik relations as the Tajik community might be expected to gain the most out of the reconstruction projects.

India wants to improve its relations with Tajikistan to use it as a geopolitical stepping stone to out-flank China on its Xingjiang province border. To do this India needs to assist the large Tajik population in northern Afghanistan. India therefore has more interest developing good relations with Tajikistan than with Turkmenistan, and India would also rather be friends with the Tajik population of north Afghanistan than the Pashtun south of Afghanistan. This should be reflected in major aid projects to the region.

Indeed it is. We learn from the first source India has given a $17 million grant to Tajikstan so they can modernise a hydroelectric power plant. We also know India has given $1.2bn in reconstruction aid to Afghanistan since 2001. The largest projects, like the Zaranj-Delaram road connection to Iran, and Salma Dam project near Herat, are all close to sizeable Tajik populations in the Afghan north-west (dark green in the Stratfor map below). 

The road project to Iran (from Herat through Nimruz province) is significant because it offers the more urban Tajiks and Uzbeks another trade route with India and the rest of the world through Iran, rather than Pakistan. The road also brings the sea port to closer for the Herat region than the alternative via the Khyber Pass.  Additionally the BBC article says India are "erecting power transmission lines in the north" which has returned 24 hour electricity to Kabul.

3. Trade economies 

It makes sense for the populous Indian north west (14 million in New Delhi alone) to develop a better trade relationship with Afghanistan - the Tajik north at least. New Delhi is closer to Kabul by road (about 1200km) and air than are Calcutta or Mumbai. A whole swathe of Central Asia including Tajikistan is nearer to the Indian capital than the southern Indian region of Kerela and the city of Chennai. It makes economic sense for the region to become more integrated, such as in the supply of refrigerated fresh fruit and vegetables, and there will always be elites willing to support such moves in return for a slice of the pie. 

4. Out-flanking China

In 1962, 48 years ago, India and China fought a war over their border. This conflict is much forgotten - what with the India-Pakistan Kashmir dispute - but is a much more important motivator for India seeking a special-relationship with Tajiks in Central Asia than conflict with Pakistan.  India also had a major skirmish with China in 1987 in the Indian north-east. Given India's military superiority over Pakistan it is unlikely to lose a war against Pakistan any time soon but it could against China. This makes India's recurrent conflict with China more significant than its conflict with Pakistan. 

The 1962 war is interesting for being a purely land war, fought at high-altitude in the Indian north-west, and being one which India lost.  The war of 1962 was fought primarily over the Aksai Chin Himilayas and the Chinese construction of National Highway 219, a militarily strategic road which connected the two troublesome Western provinces, Tibet and Xingjiang.

While India lost the war for Aksai Chin it still considers this territory part of India. Were India in a position of strength and China one of weakness, Indians might attempt to take it back with force - and prop up anti-Han Chinese independent states in Xingjiang and Tibet. However India might be looking to threaten China even before conflict by providing covert assistance to anti-Han Chinese groups via Tajikistan and the road link into Xingjiang across the border in southern Kyrgyzstan (screen cap from Google maps below). 

At the elite/government level the Pakistan-Indian conflict is much less immediately important than the Sino-Indian conflict. I expect the trade route between Afghanistan and India to be kept open for now. No, I don't expect Pakistan to be an irrelevance as China will eventually lean on Pakistan, and groups in the region, to undermine Indian interests in Central Asia. This could lead to separation of the undeveloped Pashtun part of Afghanistan from the better functioning Tajik-dominated part and the closure of the Kabul-Wagah trade route. 

Received wisdom of the Afghan conflict as a geopolitical tussle between Pakistan and India is therefore not only light-weight, it is wrong as it does not explain current economic cooperation between the two governments (such as the Kabul-Wagah trade route... for now). It also says nothing about India's funding of reconstruction projects which favour Tajik-Afghans. If the Indian interest in Afghanistan was really against Pakistan rather than China there would be more Indian attempts to draw the Pashtuns away from Pakistan. That there do not seem to be such an interest shows the Pakistan-India dispute is less relevant than the India-China one for the continuing Afghan conflict.